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House bill looks to stop future "Solyndras"

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican lawmakers unveiled legislation on Tuesday to end a program offering loan support for clean energy companies, keeping alive the issue of a massive loan to solar panel maker Solyndra, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy.

Solyndra received more than $500 million in government support and has become a political talking point for Republicans in the run-up to November's election and an embarrassment to the administration of President Barack Obama.

After more than a year of hearings and the release of hundreds of thousands of documents in their probe, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce committee contend the Obama administration was driven by "politics and ideology" when it awarded a loan to Solyndra.

Draft legislation, co-authored by energy committee chairman Fred Upton and oversight subcommittee chairman Cliff Stearns, would block approval of any new loan requests from clean energy companies. It would also require written guidance from the Treasury Department before approval of any pending applications.

The Obama administration has rejected claims that politics played any role in its decision to support Solyndra.

In response to the proposed legislation, the Energy Department said it has continuously worked to strengthen the oversight of the loan program and pointed out that Congress set aside $10 billion to cover loan losses when the program was created.

"As we have consistently said, there is a degree of risk inherent in helping new, innovative technologies get off the ground," the department said in a statement.

"Just because there is risk here, that doesn't mean we should throw up our hands and cede the jobs of the future to China, Spain, or anywhere else."

The loan program that funded Solyndra expired last year but the department still has $34 billion in another clean energy loan program that has so far backed three nuclear projects.

With the Democrat-controlled Senate unlikely to consider similar legislation, the bill will probably stall in the House, though it would provide fodder for Republicans on the campaign trail.

Under the House bill, the Energy Department would be required to submit a report to Congress outlining its decision-making process for any new loan aid.

In addition, the legislation would prevent a repeat of the department's decision to restructure the Solyndra loan when the company was facing financial trouble, which placed taxpayers behind private investors in the event of bankruptcy.

Since the failure of Solyndra, other companies that received financial support from the government have filed for bankruptcy or encountered financial woes, including Abound Solar Inc and Beacon Power Corp. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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